Five Ways to Break Bad Habits
A habit is a regular practice, wired deep into our brains, often hard to give up. Habits can be good (like exercise, healthy eating, and regular Bible-reading) or bad (think of unhealthy tendencies that make us feel stuck).
Whether it’s the bad habit of turning to the cupboard for satisfaction, falling into a trance in front of the television, or a deeper, more shameful habit that we dare not mention in the circle at the weekly Bible study, most of us could stand to break at least a habit or two. Many of us long for the freedom of breaking an unhealthy coping mechanism or secret pattern of sin. When we’re honest about it, most of our “bad habits” are more than quirky idiosyncrasies. They’re sins like gluttony, gossip, covetousness, and greed.
So, how do we break free?
1. Begin with Prayer
Nothing breaks a habit like becoming so sick of it that there seems to be no choice but to give it up. This is often how God works in our lives. We get sick of feeling sick from too much sugar. Our minds grow weary from chasing after the newest trends in fashion, entertainment, and home remodeling.
The apostle Paul was clearly sick of his sin when he penned these words to the Roman church: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). When we can readily admit that our sinful flesh makes us miserable, we are ready to agree with God and try to give up the habit. We can begin by praying that we’ll be too sick of the behavior to continue in it.
2. Consider Tomorrow
While a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream might seem good in the moment, wisdom asks what the implications are for tomorrow. If physical discomfort comes from a habit, focus on the discomfort that will come tomorrow instead of the temporary pleasure of indulging today.
Our behaviors hold natural consequences, and it is by God’s grace that he allows us to feel the weight of our sins. Consider whether coveting expensive things will fill you up or deplete you. Consider how the things that go into your body will make you feel in the near future. Natural consequences can be a strong deterrent.
3. Ask for Help in the Moment
God calls us to turn to him when we are weak. When our defenses are down, and we long to give in, he waits for us to call to him. He reminds us that his power is perfected in us when we admit our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:10).
God enjoys giving wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5). We are to turn our eyes to him in our weakest moments and seek his deliverance.
4. Replace It with a Deeper Joy
One of the best strategies for changing a behavior is to replace it. We can replace our unhealthy habitual patterns with healthy patterns. A short walk is healthier stress-relief than a bag of potato chips. An intellectually stimulating book is healthier than an addiction to video games.
God has promised never to let us face a temptation without providing a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13). We can join him in this work by planning enjoyable replacement activities for the times when we know we’ll be tempted to indulge in unhealthy habits.
5. Tell a Friend
Finally, shining light on the hidden habits in our lives often unleashes the power to set us free. When we bring our secrets into the light, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit is already working in us to bring us freedom. Whether it’s seeking accountability from a friend, or seeking professional counsel to overcome a long-term addiction, walking the journey with a trusted follower of Christ can make all the difference.
God’s desire is to see his children living in abundance and freedom from sin (John 10:10). Christ died to set us free from sin — once and for all. While sinful habits may not die easily, we begin by standing in agreement that the victory is already ours, and we step into that victory one step at a time.